What really ushers me out of winter and into summer is the crescendo of the Great Lakes migratory bird stopover along the shores of Lake Superior. I’ve been fortunate to work with Landmark Conservancy the past years to protect bird habitat. I have learned a few things about what on earth those birds are doing flying thousands of miles to the Superior Basin and beyond. Even better, I know some of the coolest protected places that welcome exhausted and hungry birds and provide a home for them if habitat along the Big Lake is their final destination on their journey. Allow me to share.
My favorite image of birds arriving on the shores of the Superior basin is as one big party with all varieties of birds attending. Hawks, shorebirds, woodpeckers and songbirds all together arriving as a “broad front”. Unlike breeding season when birds mark their own unique habitat to raise their young, migrating birds are stopping all together, sharing the same habitat and food. A reunion of sorts, lasting from March to late May. A good place to experience migratory stopover is along the shore of Lake Superior on the Brownstone Trail in Bayfield.
With a trailhead in town, this protected corridor hugging the shoreline is accessible and passes through some enticing habitat. As the local Bayfield Sandstone dictates, the soil is sandy, yet rich in organic material, supporting the hemlocks, sugar maples, yellow birch, and red and white pine, adapted to the microclimates of the Lake Superior coast. There is lovely backyard bird habitat with enhanced native plantings managed by volunteers and homeowners attentive to ecological diversity. Such habitat is attractive for both migrating birds and birds that are adapted to breed in these coastal areas.
Once the birds begin the “fallout” (literally dropping into the habitat), birds begin foraging for food. Important are the natural seeps coming from the sandstone and the ephemeral wetlands along the Brownstone Trail. These sources of water provide the habitat for the high protein insects needed as food and nutrition during migration and breeding season. There is synchrony between the bird’s arrival and the insect hatches.
Birds to Observe on the Brownstone Trail
Black & White Warbler
American Redstart Male
There are so many ways to watch birds; with friends, competitively, from your kitchen window, in the rain, in the wind, on a hike. The best way is when you are out there, in the bird’s habitat. Bring your binoculars, a packable chair and a bird book to see how many different birds you can see. Or stand quietly and listen. Try and memorize a bird song to learn. Imagine their bird’s eye view. Notice the wildflowers and the Superior views, too. Thank you Landmark!
Check out ebird.org to explore migratory bird sightings in Wisconsin.
Jane Anklam dedicated 16 years to conservation projects and partnerships with Landmark Conservancy as a Conservation Manager from 2004-2020.